Michael Bobbitt: Notes From The Peanut Gallery (City Council Meeting August 27th, 2012)

The City Council’s on Monday was three meetings in one; actually a regular meeting, a closed session, and a work session.  So my summary will follow the sequence of the meetings.

1. Vance County Comprehensive Transportation Plan

Scott Watson presented to the Council the State Department of Transportation’s concept and planning for transportation needs within Vance County over the next thirty years.  This was a much improved presentation from the one given to the County Commissioners earlier this month.  Mr. Watson stressed that the DOT was presenting a list of transportation needs for the next 30 years.  The presentation is not a promise to build anything.  The DOT is only asking the Council to approve the concept of the plan.  The Council did so.

 2. Economic Development Matter and Personnel Matters

The Council recessed into closed session to discuss an Economic Development Matter and Personnel Matters.  Those not invited sat on the group W bench chit-chatting, playing with our papers and pencils while awaiting any announcement on the Economic Development Matter or Personnel Matters.  The Council returned to regular session with an announcement on the Economic Development Matter.  (If you must know the personnel matters get elected to the Council.)  

The City Council approved giving a $3,500 incentive to a ‘developer’ who has “purchase the old, now vacant, Ambassador Inn”.  Be for warned the County is going to match the City’s incentive.  “The developer proposes to spend approximately $1.8M in renovations to the facility and create 35 jobs with an average [annual] wage of $16,945.  These jobs will provide insurance.”  This sounds great and as a famous person said trust and verify.  So who is this developer? 

ALB Hotels LLC doing business as Henderson Hospitality LLC is apparently the developer.  Who is ALB Hotels?  According to their web-site “ALB Hotels LLC, is a privately owned nationwide hospitality investment firm that specializes in the acquisition and management of midscale, select and limited service hotel properties.  Our singular purpose is investing in and enhancing the value of hotel real estate.” www.albhotels.net.  Tony Balthrop, President and CEO of ALB Hotels, LLC is launching a hotel hospitality investment fund, according to a news release posted on ALB Hotel’s web-site.  According to NC Secretary of State’s web-site Anthony L. Balthrop is organizer and member of the recently formed Henderson Hospitality LLC.  There is a reason to have this legal separation between Mr. Balthrop’s businesses’, alas I do not understand those legal nuances. 

I saw nothing on ALB Hotels’ web-site about creating jobs at hotels.  Especially jobs that will pay on average $8.15 per hour ($16,945 for a 40 hour work week, 52 weeks of the year).  That is an average and does not distinguish between managers and staff.  Can $1.8M resurrect the old and now vacant Ambassador Inn to its original splendor as shown on the web-site http://travel.yahoo.com/p-hotel-359107-ambassadors_inn_and_suites-i?  Those who I asked were skeptical of that number and agreed with me in hoping this works.

3. Working Session

The work session in my view was in three parts the bad, the ugly, and the good.  The demolition of abandoned homes was the bad because the city must use tax payers’ money to demolish and cart off the abandoned home.  The out of State investor and owner of the properties on Charles and Rowland Streets was granted the extra special consideration.  The owner has done little to solve his problem during the past five years yet the Council gave him an additional 90 plus days to do more of the same.  The ugly part is the Application [for] an Urban Progress Zone Designation.  Looking at the details (were the devil resides) in this application I see that Parham Road between North Garnett and I85 is designated an urban progress zone.  This just happens to be the same road that the “old, now vacant, Ambassador Inn” is located.  The same location owned by an out of State property investor who the City and County intend to give a combined $7,000 of Vance County taxpayers’ money.  This out of State investor will be able to off-set 50% of his NC State income tax and franchise tax liability.  Sweet!  And an added bonus for the out of State investor is the $101,500 in additional tax credit for hiring 35 minimum wage employees.  This application for an urban progress zone designation includes 50.91% of the whole City of Henderson of which only 18.51% of that 51% is non-residential property.  The City Council is say 50.91% of the whole city is high poverty and needs economic enhancements that benefit those able to take advantage of the multiple tax credit.  Does it bring more than minimal wage employment to the city?  

At least the night ended on two good topics.  First the plan to replace the 80 year old street light poles and the street lights along Garnett Street.  According to Duke Energy (or is it still Progress Energy) the old poles are not compliant to code and are not adaptable to modernization.  On page 98 of the meeting packet posted on HiH are pictures of the proposed new light fixtures.  Take a look and see if you think this is a worthwhile use of $25,000 of tax dollars.  The second big positive topic was an update on the Henderson Water Reclamation Facility.  The presentation includes a diagram of the current process and the proposed process for reclaiming our drinking water.  The current process would make Rube Goldberg smile in delight.  The new process simplifies what 80 plus years of underfunded modification and upgrades created.  You may download a copy of this presentation here:  Henderson_WRF update 2012_8_27